When a Partner is Harming Herself

Trauma and Abuse Case Study

Jane and Paul came to therapy after Paul read the book Women Who Hurt Themselves. Like many partners of women who self-harm, Paul was the one who looked for help for the problem. Jane had been arrested for drunk driving and had lost her license. Jane and Paul, like many other couples living in a triangle with the reenactment of trauma, were caught in a web of secrecy (see our feature article on Concealing and Revealing a Secret).

Couples dominated by trauma find themselves blaming each other for their mutual suffering: the woman who is self-harmful may blame her partner for not protecting her from her pain (seeing him as a Non-Protecting Bystander) while at the same time treating him as if he is also the Abuser. (Although the use of the pronoun ‘him’ for the partner is used here, the same dynamics often occur in same sex couples when the reenactment of trauma is present.)

Jane and Paul have been able to work together to understand how self-harm and the reenactment of trauma dominates both of their lives. The self-harm often puts Paul in the role of parent rather than partner. Jane has been able to connect with other women who self-harm through a resource center based in the community. While she and Paul have had a hard time changing their patterns around care-giving, Paul now feels freer to live his own life and Jane is feeling stronger and more able to be in an equal role in the couple. She has learned to use the other women in her peer-support group for help when she needs it, rather than always depending on Paul or a therapist.

See our Trauma and Abuse Questions item in the Circle of Life.

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